TAMPA — On the first pass play in the red zone Wednesday, Tom Brady threaded the needle to Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown, a post route that they have connected on probably dozens of times during their careers.
Linebacker Devin White was in coverage and unable to stay close enough to the Bucs tight end. No shame in that. Brady and Gronkowski have combined for nearly 80 touchdown passes over the past decade.
But White believes he can get better in pass coverage, which is why he has set a goal for five interceptions in 2020. In 13 games last season, White had one interception while forcing four fumbles and recovering four.
“Five, that’s the least I can get,” White said of the interceptions. “I’ve got to get my hands on some (footballs). I’m in man coverage a lot when I’m in my zone, zone coverage. I’ve just got to find the ball. I’ve always got a knack for fumbles and fumble recoveries. But just growing up, picks ain’t ever really been my thing so I’m just trying to make it my thing. ...
“Catching is not a problem, it’s just overplaying the quarterback and jumping routes and just being a faster, smarter football player. ... (Five is) a great number. Forty-five, it’s the end of my jersey number. I see a lot of fives out there. It’s a good number. Five picks or five sacks, I’ll take either one or both at the same time. Five picks and five sacks.”
White struggled with a knee injury and did not enjoy playing with a brace for a few weeks as a rookie last season. But he finished strong, earning NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Month honors for November and December.
White has higher expectations in his second year in Todd Bowles’ defense. Going against Brady, he says, will make him better.
“Everything is always on a string so that means you don’t really have no room for nothing when you’re going against him,” White said. “You’re in your own defense and he sees it, he’s going try to hit it to call a pass play just to be a beater for whatever coverage we’re in. But at the end of the day, we’ve got great guys on our side of the ball, too. And if I had to put the game on the line, I’d rather my defense be out there than him and the offense.
“He’s really making us better. … I think the great thing is I’m able to go to him and getting advice to see the things that he’s seeing that we need to improve on, on defense, to make us even better. ‘Hey man, I’m picking y’all apart, you’re on your toes a lot’ … just any little thing that he picked up. I’m going to him and getting advice for it because he’s seeing it every day. I know another team is going to look for it on film and try to pick us apart in the games and if we fix it right now in training camp, we’re not going to worry about it.”
Practice games ahead
Coach Bruce Arians plans for his team to play two intrasquad practice games under the lights at Raymond James Stadium in preparation for the Sept. 13 season opener at New Orleans.
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With no preseason games this year due to the pandemic, Arians would like a couple dress rehearsals. It will give some rookies and young players more of an opportunity to show their skills than they have in practice.
“We’re going to have a game at the stadium,” Arians said. “Two of them, actually. So that we’re in the stadium and the lights are on and everything is playing and everything is game ready so we’ll know the stadium is ready, too. Different atmosphere and play a game with live special teams, live offense and defense.”
Bucs go indoors
Thunderstorms chased the Bucs into their indoor facility Wednesday, where they worked exclusively in the red zone. Brady looked very sharp early, throwing touchdowns to Gronkowski, Scotty Miller, LeSean McCoy and Mike Evans.
But the defense fought back and won later in the practice.
‘‘It was a good solid period,” Arians said. ‘’It was a whole day in the red zone and I think both sides, a lot of times when they’re dropping eight, one time they dropped nine, it’s hard to find somebody open. It’s give and take but I thought the execution on both sides was pretty good.”
Arians said he wanted to give players a chance to rehydrate.
“We could’ve gone outside. We needed the air conditioning today,” Arians said. ‘‘We’ve had a couple really hot days in a row. Just for rehydration … it was a red zone day anyway. We didn’t need anybody slipping out there.”
About that Brady tweet
Linebacker Chapelle Russell bumped into Brady shortly after reporting to training camp and the response by the rookie from Temple was priceless.
“Tom Brady just said what’s up to me,” Russell tweeted. “Yea, that’s the tweet.”
Before long, the tweet went viral and Russell was completely caught off guard.
“As far as the tweet, no, I ain’t expect that at all,” Russell said. ‘‘I ain’t never, ever had my social media go that crazy over one tweet and all I said was have Tom Brady’s name in the tweet and that’s all it took, honestly. Once it went to CBS Sports to Checkdown and even Hispanic social media continued to post it and everything. Just to see that go viral, literally go viral, it was crazy.”
Day off for two vets
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul did not practice Wednesday, part of their scheduled “maintenance day” for veterans. Pierre-Paul is coming off a minor knee scope just prior to training camp.